Education Bill Wins Legislative Approval

Education Bill Wins Legislative Approval

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- The Senate gave final legislative approval Wednesday to an education reform bill that directs the public school system to emphasize core academics and devise new ways to measure student and teacher performance.

The stripped-down version of Senate Bill 154 doesn't include a $97 million income-tax hike for education or private-school tax credits.

Those Senate proposals were rejected by the House. "The framework is in place for significant change, but the responsibility is with the education establishment to make the reforms. The jury's still out," said John Bennion, a former Salt Lake City Olympic executive who pushed the reforms and tuition tax credits at the Legislature for a business-minded task force.

Bennion said giving tuition tax credits to parents who send their children to private schools would have encouraged public schools to offer better education by making them compete for students. Critics, including Gov. Mike Leavitt, said tax credits might have sapped funding for public education in the long run.

Leavitt appointed the Employers' Education Coalition but disagreed with that recommendation.

The state Board of Education is supposed to make progress reports to a legislative education committee, where Bennion said the pace of reforms will be determined.

The Senate voted 20-9 Wednesday to approve the bill. It now goes to Leavitt for his expected approval.

The legislation directs the state Board of Education to switch to a competency-based system of advancement that would measure every student's academic progress. That would replace the "seat-time" standard and minimal grades students need to advance in school.

The adopted legislation was substantially different than the one originally passed by the Senate. Once it was a sprawling piece of legislation that increased personal and corporate income taxes to give schools a major funding boost. The idea was to lift Utah from the bottom rank among states for per-pupil funding and ease classroom overcrowding. Utah's big families and a growing population are straining the education system, with another 100,000 students expected to join the system over the next decade.

In the end, the bill provided $1.8 million for the state Board of Education to develop the new curriculum and performance standards.

Without the tuition tax credits or income tax increase, Leavitt has said he will sign the reforms into law.

The legislation aims to give business interests more influence at the board of education. It also eases licensing standards for teachers.

(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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